The Landscape Guide

The wild garden

For a long time the eye had been wearied with the handsomely coloured but monotonous and very expensive products of the greenhouse; the meaningless carpet-beds were too stiff to suit the light, rhythmical beauty of the new architectural garden, and indeed were as inimical to this as to the “natural” style.

Attention was turned to groups of plants long banished from gardens, which could stand the winter in their native soil, and could live for years as hardy herbaceous plants. Poor country people had always grown them, and as a rule their gardens had been kept in a simple way and had followed straight lines, both in beds and paths. These plants were speedily converted by gardeners from the condition, so to speak, of country children into creatures of wonderful beauty and colour, suitable for every class. They could be used in all sorts of ways. With their variety of colour they decorated the square beds in their box edgings; and when carefully chosen and set side by side showed a river of bloom against the dark green of the hedge from the earliest spring days till the end of autumn. These beds, or borders, are the chief feature of the flower-garden of to-day, and in their interest for the botanist they have saved the garden from becoming a mere soulless repetition of former days. There was some danger to this new style in an ever-present eclecticism, which made people constantly seek for something new, only to be disappointed when the novelty turned out to be a copy of something old. “In some of the best English gardens,” writes Rose Standish Nichols, “there is a combination of classical statuary, Renaissance fountains, French perspectives, Dutch topiary work, and the flowers from all over the world.”

This many-sidedness was not found only in the formal garden, but the natural style also made an effort to win new forms for itself at any cost, or at least to revive some of the old ones. Mr. William Robinson was really returning to the ideas of Addison and Rousseau—even Bacon had a similar fancy—when he recommended a wild garden. The plants, especially flowers and shrubs, must be so placed that they are as far as possible in their natural habitats, perhaps in marshy ground, perhaps in a rock-garden where the flora of the Alps can be grown, perhaps in a water-garden where aquatic plants of many kinds will offer a charming sight. To such places as these a gardener cannot be followed by a “ crazy architect,” for only the botanist will pursue. But since it is only possible for botanic gardens and large parks to give to such parts of a garden proper professional attention, this sort of place is often a sad caricature in a small place. The fundamental ideas that were worked out by way of experiment in small plantations were next transferred to the huge natural parks, where, especially in America, primeval forests might be found in their original beauty, untouched by the hand of man. To complete the many- sidedness of the modern picturesque style, the imitations of Japanese gardens may be mentioned, since in a perfect garden one part is generally given to them. It is true that great difficulties stand in the way of a good imitation, which is often confined to the provision of certain decorations, such as lanterns, bridges and stones, with possibly a dwarf tree here and there.

The reason why the average garden is so good in England is that a surprising number of people are educated in gardening and botanical lore, although they are not professionals. It has been said that whereas ten years before the end of the nineteenth century the care of a garden was the favourite occupation of the few, it is now the passion of the many. To this we may add the important fact that women in England, especially of the educated class, take an important part in gardening, either because they have a place of their own to cultivate, or else because they adopt it as a profession. A decision to admit women to the Horticultural College at Swanley was arrived at in 1891. There are now more than seventy studying there.

While England must be esteemed the leader in the modern gardening movement, other countries have followed at a certain distance. Out of the countless currents of thought in the modern world which cannot yet be historically treated, we will consider here only what has come about in France and in Germany, not because other countries, especially America and Russia, have failed to play their part conspicuously and actively, but because France and Germany have sounded a distinctive note in the general harmony.